Student Association elections bring a bombardment of posters, palm cards, buttons, stickers and candy with candidates’ names and slogans printed on them.
The Joint Election Committee regulates candidate spending on campaign paraphernalia. Presidential and executive vice presidential candidates may spend up to $750, while senators are capped at $400.
Either the JEC or a third party must file campaign finance violations. If a third party claims a candidate spent too much money, the JEC responds within 24 hours. The JEC then acts as judge and jury, deciding whether or not the candidate committed a violation, student leaders said. Candidates can appeal decisions to the student court.
“We will try to be as fair as possible,” JEC chair John Plack said.
Student leaders said candidates use the honor system for spending, but each candidate must submit receipts or records of everything they bought for their campaigns. The JEC then reviews each candidate’s records to determine if they spent more than the amount allotted.
Most candidates receive an average of two to three violations during their campaigns. A candidate who receives eight violations is automatically removed from the ballot.
The Rules Committee reviews and amends the JEC Charter, which governs election procedures, including spending limits.
“You shouldn’t have to spend so much money to win an election,” said Sen. Chrissy Trotta (U-CCAS), who is running for Marvin Center Governing Board chair.
Spending limits decreased steadily for a few years because student leaders said they fear having a high spending limit will turn away many potential candidates.
“You need to have an equal playing field,” said Asher Corson (U-CCAS), an executive vice presidential candidate.
This year, the Rules Committee proposed lowering the spending limit, but the Senate opposed the legislation, maintaining last year’s regulations.
“I would personally like to see them lowered,” said Sen. J.P. Blackford (G-SEAS), who has been in the Senate for more than a decade. “I don’t think a person should say ‘I don’t want to run for office’ because they can’t afford it.”
However, SA members said spending limits cannot be too low.
“These are very competitive races,” Trotta said. “We need to allow candidates leeway to get their ideas out.”
“Low spending limits encourage people to circumvent the rules,” Blackford said.
Some of this year’s candidates said they plan to use all of the money possible for their campaign. Presidential candidate Lee Roupas is giving out Big Red gum and firefighter hats; EVP candidate Ed Buckley is giving out chocolate bars.
“The campus is pretty spread out, and in order to get your point across effectively, you pretty much need that amount,” said Isaiah Pickens, a candidate for president.
Presidential candidate Lee Roupas said he plans on spending the limit but said he would like to see the limit lowered or the SA to come up with some sort of matching funds proposal.
“I would like to see us lower it … I don’t personally appreciate having to spend the money, but its part of the process,” Roupas said.
“By the end of the election, I will use all of (the allowed money),” said Brandon Sherr, an undergraduate senatorial candidate for the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, adding, “I’ve heard people say they’ve spent $45 and gotten elected, and they’ve made great senators.”
Some of last year’s presidential candidates said they did not mind the spending limit.
“They’re just about right. It didn’t really bother me,” said former presidential candidate Steve Sobel. “It keeps people within the limits, so people don’t get out of control.”
Sobel said he spent about $700 on the general election and $300 on the runoff election. He said most of his money went to purchase posters, buttons and 72 yellow trucker-style hats for $8 apiece.
“You can still get your name out without spending that much money,” he said.
Former presidential candidate Graham Murphy said he spent about $500 on buttons, posters and bound packets of information describing his platform.
Murphy said candidates need to spend their money on making themselves visible to the GW student body.
“I didn’t have a problem (with the spending limit),” he said. “I don’t understand how a student could spend more than (the amount allowed).”
-Mosheh Oinounou contributed to this report.